The College of Arts, Sciences & Education prepares students for life after graduation to become successful leaders in the community. We went on a search to find CASE alumni who are thriving in their careers. This is one in a series we’ve titled, Where are they now?
In the 1970’s, a young man named Robert Diaz set foot on FIU’s campus when the only official building standing was Primera Casa. Diaz earned a bachelor’s degree in liberal studies and graduated after about nine years of college – and a stint on academic probation – in 1980. The year before FIU admitted its first freshman class.
The Hialeah native knew he wanted to attend law school. He graduated from Nova Southeastern University’s Shepard Broad College of Law in 1984.
If Diaz had the ability to rewind time, he would tell himself: “You’re not going to know exactly what you want to do when you graduate. You may not know what you are really going to do in life till you maybe get to your junior or senior year. Always try to get out and do a bunch of things, so you know what you don’t want to do.”
Diaz worked as an assistant public defender at the Office of the Public Defender for the 17th Judicial Circuit. He tried 125 jury trials, 80 percent of which were circuit court felony cases ranging from third-degree felonies to first-degree murder.
In 1989, Diaz went back to the classroom, but this time as an adjunct professor at Nova. Three decades later, he still teaches “Street Law,” an interactive experience for law students to share what they have learned in law school with middle and high school students in the community while building their own trial advocacy and speaking skills. Through this course, he hopes to encourage more students to practice law.
“Seventy-two kids have come into my “Street Law” class and said, ‘I want to go to law school because I did a mock trial.’ It might not have been mine, but they did a mock trial. I encourage young students that way and help them further their career.”
Although Diaz enjoyed working at the Office of the Public Defender, in 1992 he was presented with a compelling argument. Diaz recalls a gentleman saying, “We have never had a Hispanic judge in Broward County. We want you to put your name in.”
Diaz worried that if elected, people would assume he only got the position because he is Hispanic. A friend gave him some sound advice: “Just get the job and do a good job and no one is going to say anything.”
He did just that.
Having never planned on life as a judge, Diaz faced quite a journey on his way there. However, he was never alone. With the support of what he called his army – students, family and friends – Diaz proved all the doubters wrong.
“I got the most votes for a judge in Broward County in its entire history.”
Judge Diaz has been on the bench for 26 years now.
He has presided over teen court trials and misdemeanor cases. Diaz was recognized with the Harvey Ford Award in 2017 for his service to the community and the State of Florida Conference of County Court Judges.
Today, his daughter attends FIU. Her enrollment brought Diaz back to his alma mater where he met Jody Glassman, director of undergraduate admissions, and Elizabeth Bejar, senior vice president of academics and student affairs.
“I had been away from FIU for a long time, and when I came back with my daughter and saw what they were doing, I thought it was time to get involved again,” said Diaz.
Meeting Glassman and Bejar led Diaz to participate in Panther Alumni Week in both 2018 and 2019.
He stopped by the “Major and Career Exploration” class where he shared obstacles he faced on his journey and left them with one important piece of advice: “I learned a long time ago that if you get an education, no one can take that away from you.”